Rhode Island continues to struggle with high unemployment, loss of revenue and an overwhelming deficit. We must focus on getting people back to work in order to meet the basic needs of our constituents. As one of Rhode Island’s more than 70,000 unemployed for almost 9 months, I have been able to see first-hand how our constituents are dealt with and the areas that need to be corrected to get people back to work. The RI Dept of Labor & Training recently instituted an electronic filing system for unemployed workers to file weekly for unemployment benefits, making the system more efficient while making sure those most in need have access to the those critical benefits. This new system is light years ahead of the “phone-in” system used for many years and I commend the RIDLT for their progress. The thinking used to increase the efficiency in this one department needs to be expanded and used throughout the State system—in all departments. We need to find ways to efficiently, and effectively, get people back to work, while we continue to support all of the basic needs of our constituents. The focus remains JOBS, JOBS, JOBS.
We also need to make Rhode Island competitive with our neighbors. I introduced bills this year to lower the sales tax in one of two possible ways:
Move from a 7% tax to a 4% tax, matching what our largest neighbor, Massachusetts, has targeted or,
Lower the sales tax to 3% over the course of 4 years decreasing 1% each year while broadening the items that are taxed excluding food, clothing and medicine.
These are two ideas to explore. The simple fact is, we need to do something, like revising the State Income tax which I co-sponsored and eliminate the corporate tax, another bill I co-sponsored. Taxes need to competitive with our neighbors which reducing the highest tax rate from 9.9 to 5.99 did. RI went from being one of the highest to dropping below 25 other states.We still need to reduce the cost of State Government which is why I introduced the bill to de-criminalize marijuana this past session. This one piece of legislation would save the taxpayers between $1 million and $4 million each year by keeping offenders out of the ACI and open up space in the courts for more serious crimes.
I was fortunate to be able to sponsor the Bay Street Bill during the 2009 session which will increase the fines on industrial polluters from $1,000/day to $25,000/day. The Governor signed that legislation into law in July 2009.
As seaside communities, Tiverton and Portsmouth are blessed with an abundance of wind which can be harnessed safely and responsibly for the power that we all need. Portsmouth has just brought on line the first municipal wind turbine in Rhode Island which, while providing clean energy, will also give the town free energy for public buildings. This needs to be the norm in Rhode Island and not the exception.
We need to make sure that our public buildings are energy efficient so that we reduce our heating/cooling costs. I introduced the Green Building Act which became law in 2009. While this was a good first step, Rhode Island needs to become a leader in the construction and conversion of existing buildings into “green” buildings. This will not only help us long term with the cost of energy but will also put more people back to work in the construction industry which has been devastated here.
Rhode Island also needs to hold our neighbors responsible for keeping our environment clean and safe. One of the biggest polluters of Rhode Island continues to be the Brayton Point Power Plant located in Swansea, MA. We must step forward and demand Massachusetts fix this problem. Additionally, the Weaver’s Cove LNG terminal threat continues. This proposed environmental hazard could potentially disrupt traffic on the Newport and Mt. Hope Bridges and on our waterways when tankers transit through Narragansett Bay. Setting aside the tremendous disruption to our commerce and way of life, the dredging required to allow the tankers into either the Fall River-based terminal or the offshore berth proposed for Mt. Hope Bay could have disastrous effects on the fisheries in the bay. This could mean more job losses for Rhode Islanders, and have a devastating effect on our fisheries. The RI General Assembly needs to continue to fight for the citizens of the Ocean State and keep these out-of-state polluters from killing our bay.
Rhode Island finally passed a funding formula this past session. I voted against the proposed formula because both Tiverton and Portsmouth are scheduled to lose $1.5M and $2.7M respectively. The state needs to fund more than the 27% that they currently appropriating for education if we are to ever get real property tax relief down to our cities and towns.
Our Post-Secondary Education system must remain competitive and affordable, while providing a broad range of educational opportunities for those who wish to go to Trade Schools, Colleges or Universities. If Rhode Island is going to compete for high tech businesses, then we are going to need a highly skilled and educated work force. Those businesses and others require skilled tradespeople, as well as engineers, trainers and teachers, lawyers and marketers, and so many other professions—but the requirement is the same—solid education and training. Our future depends on how well we provide this to the next generation. Internationally-renowned companies have relocated to Rhode Island in the past because of our skilled workforce. We must insure the continuation of that workforce. As a State Representative, as a business man, and as the father of three children who will be part of that workforce, I am committed to working on these issues.